Government Compassion Is Not the Kind We Need, by Camille Harper

A New Visions Commentary paper published September 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 20 F Street NW, Suite 700 , Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 507-6398, Fax (301) 498-1301, E-Mail [email protected].

Leaving liberalism was painful, and came in slow stages. Leaving liberalism was painful and slow, first, because the compassion of others is a life-or-death matter for me (I am severely disabled), and second, because I would not deny to others what I must have for myself.

I’m not talking about the rhetoric of politics. To paraphrase George Orwell, many of the politically compassionate people I have known were climbers who could not find another ladder. I’m speaking of the simple compassion that ordinary people can feel for another person’s plight. I respect that kind of compassion, but I don’t confuse it with solving problems.

I didn’t leave liberalism because of any of the above, or even because some of our political leaders lack character. Frankly, I’m more surprised when I find a politician who has character than I am when I find one who doesn’t have it. I have never had a lot of faith in politics or politicians.

I left liberalism because I couldn’t live with its doublethink any more. George Orwell defined doublethink as the power of holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously, and accepting both of them. This definition applies to me: I accepted liberalism because I saw it as reaching out a helping hand to those who needed it. In the words of one public service commercial of long ago, “Strong legs run that weak ones may walk.”

When mine were the legs that were strong and could run, I had no problems with liberalism’s doublethink. But when others had the strong legs and mine were weak, I began to see the contradiction between political compassion and an ordinary person’s compassion.

I saw, when I was the recipient rather than the giver, that an ordinary person’s compassion was not enough, and the government’s was too much. The ordinary person could not take care of the necessary, and the government could not resist taking care of too much. The government built armies of those who needed or just wanted compassion, and these armies marched.

They march with candles instead of guns; they may march in the name of compassion rather than power; they may wear ordinary clothes rather than uniforms, but — they marched, and they marched to empower special interests and hidden alliances.

And they made me think of other words from Orwell: “If you want a picture of the future, picture a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

When I realized those words described what government “compassion” had done to my life — and to the lives of others who, like me, needed a helping hand — that’s when I left liberalism.

I didn’t leave to bash liberalism; I left liberalism to try to find a better way. I may not be the one to find that way; nothing I do may help others to find that better way; but trying and failing is better than wearing that stamping boot — on my foot or in my face.

And somewhere out there, there’s a way to do compassion as well as feel it. Someday, someone will find that way…someone else, who maybe even now, is slowly and painfully leaving liberalism as I have already done.

by Camille Harper, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership group Project 21, is editor of the community-based newsletter The Strobe (Chicago, IL).


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